Mending Fences, Building Bridges

I am writing to address the article regarding Fences [“The Disinvited,” Sept. 29–Oct. 5] and the advertising and publicity policies of the Pasadena Playhouse. The article suggested deliberate exclusion of black media from the opening performance and from advertising dollars. It is ironic that this theater would be accused of exclusion when it is operating at the height of inclusion.

Serious issues of racial inclusion do exist in the non-profit arts world and there should be a public discussion of the problem. In the course of this discussion, however, we will not have our mission or values misrepresented. Artistic Director Sheldon Epps and the men and women who work and volunteer for this theater care deeply about making the Pasadena Playhouse a resource for everyone in our community.

It is important that the art on our stage represent the vibrant mix of colors and cultures so dynamically present in Pasadena and throughout Los Angeles. We have sought to produce plays that involve artists of color. Within the last year, we have also tackled other issues of diversity on our main stage such as gay rights and language development for the deaf. Of the nearly 10,000 youth we serve each year in our outreach programs, the majority are young people of color who are often seeing a play for the very first time.

For Fences, a sold-out play for which tickets are being scalped on the Internet for hundreds of dollars, we have given away hundreds of seats to young people throughout our community. On a very special recent afternoon, we partnered with Wells Fargo to bring, at no charge, 100 high school students from Compton, the hometown of our Mr. Epps, to see this wonderful play.

Increasing our service to the black community is a primary reason we committed to produce Fences long before major stars were attached to the project. People of color were the absolute majority at the opening-night performance and after party as well as at many regular performances.

It is unacceptable that we be made an example of as a company that discriminates in its business practices, and it is highly regrettable that media stories developed on the basis of one advertising decision on one show. We have advertised with black newspapers and radio stations in the past, we did so for Fences, and we will continue to do so in the future.

Specifically to the suggestion that African Americans have been systematically and deliberately “fenced” out, the charge is demonstrably untrue, and the reporting of such exclusion is irresponsible. What is true is that we have been overbooked for Fences with long standby lines every night. People of all colors have lost seats or been turned away. On opening night, this group included one of our frequent directors, Andy Robinson, who is white. In fact, because I personally interacted with the standby group, I know firsthand that the majority of people turned away on opening night were white. No matter what their race, however, all were offered tickets for another evening at no charge. Some media outlets were asked to change performances to address the overbooking on opening night, a problem not specifically isolated to black media or this theater and or this event.

The silver lining is that I have had the opportunity to have conversations with people I might other­wise not have met. I appreciate the passion many have expressed to me about the importance of the Pasa­dena Playhouse in this commu­nity and about our responsibilities. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to talk a little more about the theater and what we are trying to do for the community, as well as the fact that we are a non-profit company that does not make money on the plays we do. I am glad to have met Ruthie and Joe Hopkins of the Pasadena Journal, and I look forward to a meeting we have scheduled to talk about our relationship and how we can help each other. I am hopeful that they and everyone in the black media will understand that we are not only a willing but an active partner in diversity and bringing our community together — before, during and after Fences. I also know that this dialogue will help us to better serve the community, and for that I am grateful.

Brian Colburn

Managing Director

Pasadena Playhouse

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